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College football by the odds: Betting preview of the ACC

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Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs for yardage against North Carolina State during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 41-0. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Note: Talking Points will run betting previews of all the major conferences leading up to college football’s kickoff. This is the final part of the series. Check out all the other parts parts here.

The ACC often resembles the fifth wheel of a cruel adolescent friend group.

It’s almost as if the other four major conferences keep the ACC around in football just to pick on it. Sure, Florida State won the national championship in the 2013-2014 season but that was the conference’s one fleeting moment of glory this century.

More emblematic of the ACC’s position among its peers was Florida State’s showing in the postseason last year. Oregon tormented Florida State in the Rose Bowl, the first-ever national semifinal, with a 59-20 victory as 7-point favorites.

The rest of the ACC bowl teams didn’t defend their champion’s honor either with the conference collectively going 4-7 straight-up, 5-6 against the spread in bowl season. It was the fourth time in the last six seasons that the East Coast league failed to post a winning record in bowl games.

Las Vegas sometimes exacerbates the ACC’s abuse. The conference has also failed to post a winning record against the spread in non-conference play in five of the last six seasons.

As part of its annual games of the year reveal in June, the Golden Nugget opened betting lines on 15 non-conference tilts featuring an ACC team. The ACC was favored in only three of the games, and none by a touchdown or more.

The outliers are Clemson laying two points against Notre Dame and three at South Carolina along with Florida State as a 4.5-point favorite hosting Florida. Otherwise, ACC teams are an average of 7.5-point underdogs in their showcase games versus other leagues.

Clemson and Florida State are the bullies among the bullied anyway. For the second straight year, the Atlantic division foes are the only ACC teams with odds of less than 100-to-1 to win the national championship at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

In total, only seven of the 14 teams in the ACC are listed with odds to win the national championship at the Superbook. That’s the lowest percentage of all major conferences, a result of the ACC’s bottom tier consistently lagging behind.

The oppressed don’t stay that way forever in a sphere as fickle as college football though. The ACC has reasons to believe this is the year it can start to punch back.

Check below for a team-by-team preview of the ACC including betting odds, analysis and picks at the bottom of the page. Last year, Talking Points went 102-80-2 against the spread in college football picking the 10 biggest games each week and every bowl game. Future prices come from the Superbook, while CG Technology provides win totals.

Clemson

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Clemson's Wayne Gallman, left, gets dragged down by Florida State's P.J. Williams on a kick return in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

Odds to win the ACC: plus-175

Win total: 9 (over minus-150, under plus-120)

Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Wofford)

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Sept. 17 Clemson minus-3 at Louisville; Oct. 3 Clemson minus-2 vs. Notre Dame; Oct. 10 Clemson minus-3 vs. Georgia Tech; Oct. 24 Clemson minus-3 at Miami; Nov. 7 Clemson minus-2 vs. Florida State; Nov. 28 Clemson minus-3 at South Carolina

Overview: The Tigers are the preseason favorite to win the ACC for the first time in at least a decade for one reason — sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. The former five-star recruit is every bit as lethal as advertised when healthy. Watson would have led the nation in passer efficiency, edging out Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, if his 137 attempts in between injuries would have been enough to qualify. Last year’s results in Las Vegas also demonstrated how valuable Watson was to the Tigers, as they went 4-0 against the spread in games he started. Their only loss under Watson was to Florida State in an overtime game where Clemson held a near plus-100 yardage differential. The matchup between the only two teams to have won the Atlantic division for the last six years annually looms as the ACC’s most significant showdown. Coach Dabo Swinney has rewarded bettors in the neo-rivalry, but not his program. He’s 1-4 straight-up, 4-1 against the spread versus Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. The betting line on this year’s game, which Clemson hosts, is anywhere between minus-2 and minus-4 at sports books around town. Clemson has seen a pair of line moves go against it in other games at the Golden Nugget. That’s because shrewd bettors know that beyond Watson, there are major questions. And not as much on offense, where the Tigers return almost all of their skill players including first-team All-ACC wide receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott. But only three starters are back from a defense that led the nation in giving up four yards per play last season. Clemson has the least experience of any team in the ACC, making the question of the 2015 season whether Watson is skilled enough to make up for deficiencies in other areas.

Florida State

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In this Dec. 29, 2014, file photo, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, center, is surrounded by reporters during the team's media day, for the Rose Bowl, in Los Angeles.

Odds to win the ACC: plus-250

Win total: 9 (over minus-135, under plus-105)

Week 1 line: Florida State minus-30.5 vs. Texas State

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Oct. 10 Florida State minus-13 vs. Miami; Oct. 17 Florida State minus-12 vs. Louisville; Oct. 24 Florida State pick’em at Georgia Tech; Nov. 7 Florida State plus-2 at Clemson; Nov. 28 Florida State minus-4.5 at Florida

Overview: When was the last time Florida State spent most of the offseason in the relative middle of the pack at 30-to-1 to win the national championship? Well, that would have been two years ago ahead of becoming the most recent team to go undefeated and win the title. The Seminoles were also the most profitable team to bet on in the nation, going 12-2 against the spread, during their dream 2013 season. Last year, they were one of the worst and went 3-11 versus the number. The decline may have left the betting market gun shy, as Florida State hasn’t drawn any action significant enough to move its win total or odds to win the ACC this year. The Seminoles are still practically co-favorites to win their fourth consecutive conference title, which would make four in a row for the first time since the 1990s, with a minority of sports books nudging them above Clemson. Some prominent advanced metrics, including Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings, also rank Florida State ahead of Clemson. Like the Tigers, the Seminoles must overcome the loss of the majority of their roster. Former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson will be surrounded with some of the highest-touted young talent in the nation, including running back Dalvin Cook who set a school record with more than 1,000 yards as a freshman last season. Potential top NFL Draft pick Jalen Ramsey leads a defense that was disappointing last season, giving up 5.5 yards per play to rank 62nd in the nation. The odds will favor Florida State by at least three touchdowns in each of its first four games, and bettors will eagerly jump back on board if it’s successful. Gamblers have inflated the Seminoles’ numbers for years, which is why 2013 was the only time in the last decade they’ve posted a winning record against the spread in conference play.

Georgia Tech

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Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas (5) runs against Georgia Southern during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Odds to win the ACC: 5-to-1

Win total: 7.5 (over minus-175, under plus-145)

Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Alcorn State)

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Sept. 19 Georgia Tech plus-6.5 at Notre Dame; Oct. 10 Georgia Tech plus-3 at Clemson; Oct. 17 Georgia Tech minus-12.5 vs. Pittsburgh; Oct. 24 Georgia Tech pick’em vs. Florida State; Oct. 31 Georgia Tech minus-10 at Virginia; Nov. 12 Georgia Tech minus-6 vs. Virginia Tech; Nov. 21 Georgia Tech minus-3 at Miami Nov. 28 Georgia Tech plus-1 vs. Georgia;

Overview: Any semblance of defense last season could have delivered Georgia Tech to the college football playoff. The Yellow Jackets posted the nation’s most efficient offense, according to F/+, but their defense couldn’t even crack the top 100. All three of their losses, including a 37-35 defeat to Florida State as 4-point underdogs in the ACC Championship Game, came by less than a touchdown in games where they gave up at least 30 points. Luckily for the Yellow Jackets, they get to run it back in 2015 with more returning starters than both of the teams listed ahead of them in the odds. They actually lose almost all of their skill players that contributed to last year’s high-flying offense except the leader. Junior quarterback Justin Thomas ran for 1,086 in the wishbone attack while adding 1,719 through the air. Thomas isn’t enough for gamblers as they’ve driven up both Georgia Tech’s price to win the national championship, 100-to-1 from 60-to-1, and the conference, which opened at 3-to-1. The Yellow Jackets face one of the toughest schedules in the nation, with out of conference games against Georgia and Notre Dame, and benefited from a few unsustainable factors last year. That includes recording a turnover on 26 percent of opponents’ possessions, the highest mark in the nation.

Virginia Tech

Odds to win the ACC: 6-to-1

Win total: 8 (over minus-133, under plus-103)

Week 1 line: Virginia Tech plus-12 vs. Ohio State

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Oct. 3 Virginia Tech minus-9 vs. Pittsburgh; Oct. 17 Virginia Tech plus-3 at Miami; Nov. 12 Virginia Tech plus-6 at Georgia Tech; Nov. 28 Virginia Tech minus-4 at Virginia

Overview: The Hokies won the Coastal division to reach the ACC Championship Game in five of the first seven years it was held. Since then, they are just 12-12 straight-up and 9-15 against the spread in ACC play. They appeared to spur their re-emergence in the second week last year, beating Ohio State 35-21 on the road. In hindsight, it looks like the biggest upset of the season but Virginia Tech was an 11-point underdog — virtually identical to what it will open at home against Ohio State on Monday night. The offense could never match the level it showed against the Buckeyes again, with Texas Tech transfer quarterback Michael Brewer regressing and running backs JC Coleman and Marshawn Williams struggling to find holes behind a porous offensive line. That whole trio is back, with an eye on returning Virginia Tech to prominence. The Hokies have an 11 percent chance to win the conference, according to the future odds, after action drove down their opening price of 10-to-1.

Louisville

Odds to win the ACC: 12-to-1

Win total: 7.5 (over minus-135, under plus-105)

Week 1 line: Louisville plus-10.5 at Auburn

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Sept. 17 Louisville plus-3 vs. Clemson; Oct. 17 Louisville plus-12 at Florida State; Nov. 28 Louisville minus-2.5 at Kentucky

Overview: Bobby Petrino is working on his vices, while likely ensuring that others don’t follow his lead. No one who’s compulsively gambled on Petrino’s teams is going to quit now. The controversial and nomadic head coach has posted winning records in seven of his nine college seasons for a total mark of 67-44-1 versus the number. It looks like he could have another undervalued team in 2015. The odds are downgrading the Cardinals after they lost the majority of one of last year’s best defenses, but they quietly reloaded with a set of transfers. Georgia defensive backs Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins come over, joining TCU’s former Big 12 defensive player of the year in linebacker Devonte Fields. They’ve been wagered up in both the conference futures, from 7- to 12-to-1, and the national championship futures, from 100- to 300-to-1.

North Carolina

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North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams passes against Georgia Tech during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Odds to win the ACC: 12-to-1

Win total: 7.5 (over minus-145, under plus-115)

Week 1 line: North Carolina plus-2.5 vs. South Carolina

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Nov. 28 North Carolina plus-1 at North Carolina State

Overview: Like most of the ACC’s bourgeois, North Carolina was above average on one side of the ball last season and horrendous on the other. The Tar Heels took it to the extreme. They had one of the five worst defenses in the nation, surrendering 6.5 yards per play, which doomed them to their first losing season in eight years. Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik arrives to repair the unit as the new defensive coordinator. North Carolina brings back 17 starters, which is more than any other team in the ACC. The returners include electric dual threat quarterback Marquise Williams and former top-recruit running back Elijah Hood. The Tar Heels ballooned to 1,000-to-1 from an opener of 300-to-1 to win the national championship but trimmed down to 12-to-1 from 15-to-1 to take the ACC.

Miami

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Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) and offensive linesman Alex Gall do drills before an NCAA football game, against Florida A&M Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. At right is offensive line coach Art Kehoe. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Odds to win the ACC: 12-to-1

Win total: 6 (over minus-230, under plus-190)

Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Bethune Cookman)

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Sept. 19 Miami pick’em vs. Nebraska; Oct. 1 Miami pick’em at Cincinnati; Oct. 10 Miami plus-13 at Florida State; Oct. 17 Miami minus-3 vs. Virginia Tech; Oct. 24 Miami plus-3 vs. Clemson; Nov. 7 Miami minus-8 vs. Virginia; Nov. 21 Miami plus-3 vs. Georgia Tech

Overview: No one disputes it’s a make or break for Miami and coach Al Golden. Las Vegas is leaning towards “make”. The Hurricanes have the biggest move on their over win total out of any team in the ACC. They’ve also gone from 20-to-1 to 12-to-1 to win the conference, placing them in a four-way tie with a 6 percent probability. All of the optimism comes despite Miami failing to win or cover in its final four games last season. But public bettors love recognizable programs that boast players with star potential. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya fits the profile after he threw for more than 3,100 yards and 26 touchdowns to 12 interceptions as a freshman. Kaaya loses most of his weapons, but a defense that was stout through the first half of last season returns more than half of its starters.

Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) plays against the Delaware in the NCAA football game on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Odds to win the ACC: 12-to-1

Win total: 6 (over minus-190, under plus-160)

Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Youngstown State)

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Oct. 3 Pittsburgh plus-9 at Virginia Tech; Oct. 10 Pittsburgh minus-6 vs. Virginia; Oct. 17 Pittsburgh plus-12.5 at Georgia Tech; Nov. 7 Pittsburgh plus-5 vs. Notre Dame

Overview: For exhibit two on returning stars seducing bettors, reference the Pittsburgh Panthers. Pittsburgh brings back the ACC’s leading rusher, James Conner, and its leading returning receiver, Tyler Boyd, along with quarterback Chad Voytik. The market has responded as expected, making the Panthers’ the biggest movers in odds to win the ACC after they opened at 30-to-1. Like Miami, heavy action also came in on Pittsburgh’s over 6 wins. There’s more to like than just the skill players. New coach Pat Narduzzi built Michigan State into a defensive powerhouse as its coordinator over the last seven years and has plenty work with between seven starters coming back on that side of the ball. The negative for Pittsburgh has been an inability to cover consistently over the last two years with a combined 10-16 against the spread record including 6-10 in conference.

North Carolina State

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North Carolina States Jacoby Brissett looks to hand off the ball in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Odds to win the ACC: 20-to-1

Win total: 7 (over minus-200, under plus-170)

Week 1 line: North Carolina State minus-26.5 vs. Troy

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Nov. 28 North Carolina State minus-1 vs. North Carolina

Overview: It’s still the Tar Heel state. North Carolina and North Carolina State opened with identical 15-to-1 prices to win the ACC, but it was the former who got enough action to cut down the odds while the latter’s numbers rose. North Carolina State opened as a 6-point favorite in the schools’ annual rivalry game at Golden Nugget before one of the biggest shifts on the board occurred to go all the way down to minus-1. On the surface, NC State has just as much reason for excitement. The Wolfpack closed last season winning and covering four straight with Jacoby Brissett establishing himself as one of the least turnover-prone quarterbacks in the nation. But in a league where an extraordinary 11 teams return quarterbacks, betting response to Brissett has stayed tepid.

Duke

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Duke coach David Cutcliffe is doused with Gatorade by Lucas Patrick after the Blue Devils' 48-30 win against Miami in Durham, N.C., on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013.

Odds to win the ACC: 50-to-1

Win total: 7 (over minus-140, under plus-110)

Week 1 line: Duke minus-8 at Tulane

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: None

Overview: Underestimating Duke has become an annual tradition in sports books during the David Cutcliffe era. But it hasn’t been profitable. Since the offensive wiz took over the helm in 2008, the Blue Devils are the best team in the ACC to back with a 49-33-2 against the spread record. Over the last two seasons, they are 20-7 versus the number. Leading the parlay-busting charge for Duke this year is Las Vegas native Shaq Powell. The Bishop Gorman graduate tops the depth chart at running back, and Cutcliffe may lean on him extra while breaking in new starting quarterback Thomas Sirk. Although Duke is only given a 1 percent chance of winning the ACC by the odds, it’s only two years removed from prevailing in the more volatile Atlantic division. The Blue Devils are a more respectable 13-to-1 to get back to the ACC Championship Game.

Boston College

Odds to win the ACC: 200-to-1

Win total: 5.5 (over minus-105, under minus-125)

Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Maine)

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: None

Overview: Boston College coach Steve Addazio staged an immediate turnaround by eking out winning seasons both straight-up and against the spread in each of his first two years. The real challenge will be sustaining in year three after a mass exodus from the team that lost to both Clemson and Florida State by less than a touchdown last season. The betting market sees a drop-off, pounding the under 5.5 wins to force an adjustment to the odds. Boston College’s strength last year was halting opponent’s rushing attacks, limiting them to 3.2 yards per attempt. That may continue with the Eagles’ top two tacklers, linebacker Steven Daniels and safety Justin Simmons, back for their senior years.

Virginia

Odds to win the ACC: 200-to-1

Win total: 4 (over minus-135, under plus-105)

Week 1 line: Virginia plus-19 at UCLA

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Sept. 12 Virginia plus-9.5 vs. Notre Dame; Sept. 25 Virginia plus-9 vs. Boise State; Oct. 10 Virginia plus-6 at Pitt; Oct. 31 Virginia plus-10 vs. Georgia Tech; Nov. 7 Virginia plus-8 at Miami; Nov. 28 Virginia plus-4.5 vs. Virginia Tech

Overview: Almost everyone has hounded Virginia coach Mike London throughout his five years running Virginia’s program, but bettors can finally lay off. London posted a winning record against the spread for the first time in his tenure last season, going 8-5 despite finishing just 5-7 straight-up. Some considered it a mild surprise that he’s getting another chance but the Cavaliers were an unlucky 2-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. The major obstacle this season is the schedule, which will likely see Virginia only enter as the favorite a maximum of three times — against William and Mary, Syracuse and Duke. Challenging UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State makes for one of the toughest non-conference slates of any team in the country.

Syracuse

Odds to win the ACC: 300-to-1

Win total: 4.5 (over minus-135, under plus-105)

Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Rhode Island)

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: Sept. 26 Syracuse plus-20 vs. LSU

Overview: Think the polar opposite of Virginia’s slate for Syracuse’s schedule, the start of its schedule at least. The Orange open against a not-so-fearsome trio of Rhode Island, Wake Forest and Central Michigan, all at home where they should come in as at least a touchdown favorite. Then, there’s at least a chance they might not be favored again for the rest of the year. Or, Syracuse could break out and become the surprise team of the Atlantic division. Bettors have caused a price boost on their over 4.5 wins, and senior Terrel Hunt was one of the nation’s best running quarterbacks before he got hurt last season. Syracuse took a swan dive without Hunt, losing six of its final seven games. Then again, the Orange weren’t exactly ferocious with him sporting a 2-3 straight-up and against the spread record.

Wake Forest

Odds to win the ACC: 500-to-1

Win total: 3.5 (over minus-135, under plus-105)

Week 1 line: None yet (vs. Elon)

Golden Nugget games of the year lines: None

Overview: Wake Forest was in the conversation for the worst major-conference team last season, but performed in line with sports books’ projections. The Demon Deacons went 6-6 against the spread with seven of their games falling within six points of the point spread. Dave Clawson’s first year as coach was a clear transition period with the team light on experience and talent. There’s slightly fewer excuses in 2015 with 14 returning starters including a quartet of sophomores in quarterback John Wolford, running back Isaiah Robinson running back Dezmond Wortham and tight end Cam Serigne. Wake Forest stunned Virginia Tech 6-3 as 14-point underdogs last year, and may be poised to do the same to a conference rival or two this season.

Six pack of picks: Florida State to win the ACC at plus-250, Florida State over 9 wins at minus-135, North Carolina under 7.5 wins at plus-115, Sept. 5 UCLA minus-19 vs. Virginia, Oct. 3 Pittsburgh plus-9 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 28 North Carolina State minus-1 vs. North Carolina

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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